Are the 2019-20 Atlanta Hawks Good?

The Atlanta Hawks could be best summarized as Trae Young, John Collins, and a bunch of guys who might be a playoff team and might not contend in the G-League.

So which is it? Which direction is this 29-53 Southeast Division cellar dweller from 2018-19 going to go? Are they headed toward and way past their 36-win over/under for a date with late-April basketball?

Or is this whole thing going to get impaled on the spear of Young’s seventh-worst-in-the-league defense (more on that in a minute) and lose a bunch of games 120-115 on their way back to the lottery?

The results will depend on how the new pieces mesh with the young core and how well coach Lloyd Pierce can develop the talent on his roster.

But you just want to know what the plate will be at the end of the show here, so stay tuned and…

2018-19 record: 29-53
2019-20 over/under: 36

Young Guns

It’s easy to forget just how cover-your-eyes putrid Young was last season until Christmas. When he started, tossing up bricks from long range and losing the ball like his hands were allergic to it, there was a real question whether it wouldn’t just be “Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox put up two of the three worst seasons in NBA history by VORP” but whether Young would make it three out of four.

The massive volte-face as Young found his shot led to him finishing the season with 0.6 VORP and a .062 WS/48 mark driven almost entirely by the offensive side of the stat.

Young got his 3-point shooting accuracy up to 32.4 percent, posted an eFG% of .480 (for comparison, DeMar DeRozan clocked in at .483 and Victor Oladipo at .486), got his turnovers under four a game, dished 8.1 assists to make the A/TO ratio look a little less awful, and notched his first career triple-double on March 9 just to make a point.

That was the same part of March where Young, on fire after the All-Star Game, even tried to make a case over Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year—never mind that Doncic and his 3.6 VORP was better statistically than LeBron James in 2003-04.

Simply put, we have to take Post All-Star Trae as our baseline, and on that metric, he comes into Year 2 with a chance to make a huge leap, possibly to Doncic’s level. It’s not out of plausibility to forecast a four-VORP season from him, especially if he ever learns how to play defense.

A Collins Mixer

John Collins is one of those guys who needs more press, but since he plays in Atlanta where the national media (never mind it’s TNT’s backyard) tends to forget about him, he is instead growing into a star in such a way that it might just take storming the playoff castle and making noise to get the respect he deserves.

Collins had some weird advanced-stat whiplash between his rookie and sophomore seasons. By DBPM, he went from an outstanding rookie defender (plus-1.9) to a poor second-year defender (minus-1.2), but it’s possible you can chalk that up to the garbage fire the Hawks were defensively as a team last year.

The puzzling thing is Collins forgetting how to block shots, and questions must be asked about whether Pierce is capable of coaching anyone defensively; Collins’ great defense came when Mike Budenholzer coached him, and we’ve seen what Coach Bud did in Milwaukee last year.

Then again, Collins went from 15.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes as a rookie to 23.4 and 11.7 last year, so let’s not get after him too badly.

He also got his turnovers under control, his TOV% dropping from 14.3 to 11.2 even as his usage rate rose.

All the fundamentals are there, it’s a question not of the player but of the team’s ability to defend effectively, something the Hawks were fourth-worst in the NBA at last year.

Putting a Huert on ‘Em

Kevin Huerter is the ostensible Big Three fill-out here, a sharpshooting white dude of a shooting guard whose shock of red hair and pasty ginger skin bring to mind Matt Bonner But Shorter.

No matter. Dude shot 38.5 percent from long range on a .537 3PAR, good for a .522 eFG%.

It’s also worth pointing out that he—you guessed it—sucked on defense, but a -1.0 DBPM on a trash defensive team is not an indictment of the player (see a theme developing? Young can’t guard my dead grandmother. I’m not going to say the same about Huerter and Collins.)

On paper, a .034 WS/48 looks lousy, but Huerter was, after all, a rookie, and a No. 19 pick rather than Trae’s top-5 status. Let’s let him develop.

The Best (And Worst) of the Rest

The Hawks acquired Evan Turner, which never ends well for anyone. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s caused mayhem and failure in equal measure. Pacers fans hate him for ruining the chemistry of the 2014 team after Danny Granger got traded for him. Celtics fans hate him because he never fit the vibe in Boston. Blazers fans are happy to bid good riddance to his 4-year, $70 million contract from The Year The World Went Mad.

Now he’s the Hawks’ problem. Best-case scenario, he slots in as a small forward and plays a wing role or shows up as the sixth man.

Worst-case, he competes for shooting guard minutes and undermines Huerter’s development at the position.

Alex Len was actually better than he had any right to be his last year in Phoenix (.154 WS/48, 1.0 VORP) but regressed in Atlanta (.100, 0.4.)

And DeAndre’ Bembry just sucks by any metric you can rate him on, but his career minus-0.6 VORP and zero positive seasons in three attempts will do just fine as a summary.

Also, they signed Allen Crabbe on purpose, a guy whose 37.8 percent 3-point shooting sounds good until you realize he made only 34.2 percent of his two-point shots, couldn’t stay on the floor, and posted his first sub-zero VORP season since his rookie year, which is part of why the Nets were so willing to get rid of him.

So what you’re saying is…

Yes. The Hawks have three good players and a bunch of G-Leaguers and washouts. And I haven’t even mentioned Chandler Parsons yet. If he can even show up, that’s a win for the guy who’s Atlanta’s highest-paid player.

THE VERDICT!

And that’s the problem I have with the Hawks. They have zero depth. It’s one emerging star, one guy who showed signs that he could be a second after a putrid start to his career, a third who is a great wing shooter waiting to happen, and a bunch of guys who are barely better than the Erie BayHawks.

Plus, they have a coach who has a possibly unearned reputation, because even guys who were good defenders on the last Budenholzer-coached team regressed to garbage defenders under Pierce.

And that’s where this analysis is going to land. The Hawks will score a lot of points. But they will give up even more points, go 30-52, miss the playoffs by a mile, and have serious questions to answer about whether a roster of shootout types who can’t defend will ever win anything.

So I’m calling this Busted and taking the under.

NEXT: Washington Wizards.